Absence blindness is psychological phenomenon and one which it’s important to learn about if you are going to get the most out of yourself in business, in your creative endeavours and in your everyday chores and which can help avoid potential catastrophes. Here we will look at what absence blindness is and why it’s important.
What Is Absence Blindness?
The idea here is that we are blind to the things we aren’t looking for and that we are much more likely to notice something that is there that shouldn’t be, than we are to notice something that isn’t there that should be. For instance then say you had collection of items on your shelf that you absolutely needed to do your job or to be healthy. Now say a new item suddenly appeared on that shelf – you’d be quite likely to notice it. However at the same time if something were to disappear from the shelf, you wouldn’t be likely to notice it until it was needed. Similarly this can apply to things like planning and preparation, and part of the reason for this is that you are often dealing with unknown unknowns. In short, you often don’t notice things are missing, or that you’re not doing them, because you don’t know that there’s anything else that should be there.
Recently this happened to me – I was filing out my tax return and I didn’t realise that I was also going to be paying for half of the next month on top of the previous month. Thus I got a very nasty shock when my tax came to over five thousand pounds rather than just over three thousand as I had anticipated. There was no way I could have known I hadn’t accounted for everything though as I didn’t know that there was anything else to account for. I didn’t think to read about my tax and what to expect because as far as I was concerned I had already read everything on the subject. D’oh.
Dealing With Absence Blindness
Once you realise what absence blindness is though, you can then begin to overcome it by using a number of strategies. One such strategy is to use a checklist and to go through it every day. This is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss anything, because you are actively looking for each necessary item. You can use this to check items, or to check activities and processes. It was found for instance that when surgeons used checklists they were significantly less likely to make any mistakes, and this was simply because they were going through each of the stages of the process to ensure that they were sterile, that they had the right equipment, that they’d checked the patients etc. Even if something seems simple a checklist can help. The other thing to do is to use an outside resource the first time you make that checklist and to check with as many sources as possible. Had I for instance asked around and spoken to other people who ran their own businesses, I would have discovered there was an element I hadn’t prepared for.